Living the Lenten Life: For the Joy Set Before Us
by Pastor Dan Palomino
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
The realities of Lent are the realities of the Christian Life. The Lenten life is the Christian life in miniature. What keeps us going, then, when we choose a life of sacrifice, self-denial, and discomfort or when we are subjected to temptation and pain? Our reward is not in this life but in the life to come.
As we look to Jesus as our example we, too, can endure our “cross” for the joy that is set before us, even to be “seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-7). Through his intimate relationship with the Father, and by the power of God working in and through his humanity, Jesus not only endured a 40-day fast and the temptations that followed, but faced and overcame temptation that could have led him away from the Cross.
In our Lenten fast, and in the wilderness experiences we must endure, we also encounter temptations. We might be enticed by the easy way out, give into sinful desires, compromise our values or rationalize as to why it would be okay to break our fast, or not face challenges that loom before us. When things are especially difficult, we may even get angry with God. But in our anger, do we continue to trust God in the wilderness or do we turn away from him? (See the Book of Exodus for examples.)
At a time when Jesus shared some really hard words, many people turned away. Jesus asked his twelve closest disciples if they were going to leave as well. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:60-71). They recognized that, even when he raises the bar of discipleship and things get really tough, Jesus is still trustworthy and true. Of course, they also gave into temptation and fear, faltering in their faithfulness to the Lord. I have as well, as I am sure we all have.
One major temptation working against us is that the world in which we live conditions us for instant and self-gratification with a parade of enticements that bring pleasure almost immediately. The “joy that is set before us” is far better than anything this world has to offer, but it is a joy we must wait for and cannot yet see with our eyes. Even more, we must endure the waiting in the midst of trials and challenges — the wilderness experiences that are a part of life this side of heaven. Even when things are not going the way we would like, or when we’re tempted to go a way that appears to be easier, we too must recognize and remember that Jesus was, is, and always will be true to his word.
By the grace of God we are blessed with many joys on this leg of the journey — joys that remind us of the presence and goodness of God, including the Holy Spirit at work within us! These blessings, coupled with the assurance of victory over death through the Resurrection — which we are reminded of every Sunday and especially at Easter — provide us a glimpse into the promised joy that is to come.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- When faced with temptation, how do you overcome?
- In what ways can you tap into the power of the Spirit to help you endure and turn away from sin or temptation rather than enter into it?
- Where have you seen and experienced the blessings and faithfulness of God in the journey, even in (or especially in) the midst of trials?
- In this season of Lent, or if in the midst of a wilderness experience right now, what are ways in which God is providing you with hope in which you catch a glimpse of the joy set before you?